Tuesday Takedown: Coaches' Hazing Accountability

Watertown (Mass.) High School's football team used to hold a camp with some long-standing traditions, some of which included forcing players to sit in urine, doing chores for veteran players and having younger players participate in a cookie run where the boys were stripped, cookies were placed in their buttocks, and they had to race across the field. If the cookie fell out, they were forced to eat it.

More football camp "fun," this time in New Jersey at Lodi High School's camp run by the school's football coach. The target was football team member Anthony Erekat, who was welcomed to the team by having his arms and legs duct-taped, having his hair cut off and players spreading feces and peanut body over his body. Fourteen players were ultimately suspended for the first game; that is, until someone at the school realized they were playing a tough opponent. They would later serve their suspensions against an easier opponent. But let's not focus solely on men's athletics. University of Oklahoma soccer player Kathleen Peay was allegedly required to wear an adult diaper and blindfold, where she was then forced to eat food and was sprayed with food items that simulated sexual acts. Where was her coach while this was going on? Reportedly leading the exercise.

These are just a few of the disgusting sports hazing examples spanning the last 30 years collected by ESPN and hazing authority Hank Nuwer, and they barely scratch the surface on the horrific abuse administered to young athletes around the country. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, as many as 1.5 million high school students have been subjected to some form of hazing. In college, I nearly became a victim myself. The tradition was to strip a runner naked on a long-distance run and force them to run naked for as long as the upperclassmen wanted before they would give the younger runner his clothes back. But when it was my turn, I did exactly what they had given me my scholarship to do: I ran away fast.

Here in Illinois where I live, there has been a prominent hazing story that has dominated local news for nearly two years now. Young soccer players at Maine West High School were assaulted by older players, and once news of these hazing practices reached the affected families, they went on the offensive and filed civil lawsuits against the district. And that was only the beginning. Students involved in the hazing were kicked off team and some were sent to juvenile court. Both the varsity and freshman coaches were relieved of their duties, and one (the varsity coach) was charged with criminal acts, including hazing, battery and failure to report abuse. Those charges were recently dismissed but many questions remain, including how much responsibility should a coach have over his or her player's behavior? 

Most states have anti-hazing laws, but as the numerous recent stories appearing on the AB newswire show, this is still something that is very much alive and (un)well. In the July issue of AB, I'm taking a closer look at hazing on the high school level and I welcome input on this important subject. Have you ever been the subject of hazing or been the person administering a hazing? Are there certain "acceptable" forms of hazing, such as the hazing practice described by my colleague Emily Attwood? What more can be done to stop hazing, or do you believe that this is a harmless form of team bonding that's been overblown by a few extreme cases?


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